The big question: To tow or not to tow

Dear RV Shrink:rvshrink
My husband and I have been reading your column for about a year. We are almost ready to retire and travel. We have decided on a small, diesel, Sprinter Class C motorhome with a couple of slides. The short, expandable unit we ordered seems perfect for travel. The problem is the addition of a tow vehicle.

I think we should pull a small car and my husband says it defeats the whole purpose of staying small and agile. He says the Sprinter chassis is small enough and fuel efficient enough to drive 100% of the time. I contemplate the inconvenience to uprooting our home on wheels every time we go sightseeing, shopping or out to diner. My husband continues to argue the economic side of this issue. We enjoy your input, so could you please give us some insight on this issue? —To tow or not to tow in Tucson

Dear Tucson:
This is one of those issues where one size does not fit all. Pulling a toad is a personal decision. If you’ve read this column for a while you probably know my reaction already.

On an economic basis it would be cheaper to haul a tow vehicle. It is simple math. Most people will put three times the mileage on their toad as they will on the mother ship. Just in fuel savings, this should make your decision. You can also add accelerated depreciation on your new motorhome as you rack up miles that could be allotted to your toad.

The convenience issues are pretty apparent. If your husband is concerned about pulling a second vehicle, he should talk to the many people that do. A towed vehicle tracks effortlessly behind a motorhome, it’s quick and simple to unhook, and it puts a very small dent in towed mileage.

Here is an example of what you will experience once you get on the road. Awhile ago we were in Moab, Utah. It is impossible to camp in Arches National Park (a reservation-only campground) unless you make a reservation six months in advance. Some campgrounds are first-come, first-served. It is as much as a 100-mile round-trip into the Canyonlands National Park campground to see if there is a space available. It reminds me of the famous Clint Eastwood quote, “You’ve gotta ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”

Most people, like us, end up camping in one of the many BLM campgrounds in the area and taking excursions into the parks. We end up putting over 100 miles per day on our toad. The viewpoint parking lots are jammed with traffic and tight. Often we can’t even find a parking spot for our small Saturn, let alone a small motorhome.

Not everyone travels the same way. If you are constantly on the move, a single vehicle may work out just fine, but consider all the facts before you make a decision. You can always put the decision off until you have a few miles under your belts. A few shakedown trips will change your perspective on many aspects of RV travel. —Keep Smilin’, Richard Mallery a.k.a. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Can’t get enough of the Shrink? Read his e-book: Dr. R.V. Shrink: Everything you ever wanted to know about the RV Lifestyle but were afraid to ask or check out his other e-books.

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25 Thoughts to “The big question: To tow or not to tow”

  1. Phil Atterbery

    From my point of view, it’s all about flexibility.

  2. Scott

    We were in the market for a new vehicle, and wanted one that we could tow with our 32 ft Class A, either flat or on a dolly. We couldn’t find one. We didn’t want a standard transmission, so that cut out most options. With AWD and CVT transmissions, towing doesn’t work. We don’t want a Jeep or pick-up as our regular vehicle. Honda no longer makes any automatic transmission vehicles that can be towed flat or on a dolly. We gave up on that objective. For now, we’ll either rent at the destination or dolly-tow our 2010 Honda Odyssey, which is a little heavy for comfortable towing with this RV. If we start using the RV more often, we’ll need to figure out another solution.

  3. John Connaughton

    We have a 26′ Winnebago Aspect. We don’t want a tow vehicle, but would like more mobility, especially when we retire next year and might take longer trips. We are seriously thinking of a scooter with a hitch mounted track to haul it with. True, if the weather is really bad we either brave it, don’t go or take the RV. But much of the time this won’t be an issue.

  4. Jerry X Shea

    Most important of all “what will you do at 2 am if you have an emergency and are out of cell phone range?” How about cutting your finger and needing stitches. Dog eats big chocolate bar. Something splashes into your eye. A cut becomes infected. Catching a falling plater of BBQ ribs with a knife in your hand and you stab yourself in the leg. Unexpected medical problem that requires a number of follow ups. One of you has to fly home while the other stays with the RV. ALL THE ABOVE happened to us in a 12 year period. The tow is what took us to the emergency room or gave the “stay behind” freedom to move around. If for any other reason, take a tow for safety sake.

  5. Randy Haefli

    I have owned 3 RVs varying in length from 39 to 42 ft. My 1st tow car was a small 4 dr Saturn Vue, pulled esy but hard to get in and out of for Seniors. Replaced the Saturn with a Jeep LIberty, which was not a comfortable for the rear seat passengers on day long outings. I also observed that that the Jeep Liberty had significant rolling resistance when comparing its ability to free wheel side by side with my Ford F150 4×4. I now tow the 2012 King Ranch exclusively, it does not weigh much more than a Liberty, and there has been no fuel mileage penalty when compared to the Liberty. I would not travel without a Toad on my rig, but i am not suggesting that size Toad for a Sprinter Class B.

  6. Rory

    Each to his own, to me taking the house everytime you need a loaf of bread, or want to go out to dinner or go exploring seems ridiculous. It is so easy to hook and unhook a toad. The additional cost of rentals may be equal or not, but the convenience of having a 2nd vehicle to me trumps the procedure of finding a rental, and having to return it when done. I can go explore and come “home” and haven’t lost my site to someone else. It saves mileage on my rig, and the only time you hokk or unhook is when you arrive and when you leave. My vote is for the toad. My rig is nicknamed “MSPIGGY” and my toasd is “KERMIT”. I can’t do w/o Kermit…..

  7. boxdin

    I have a similar size Chinook on a Ford E350. I don’t want to tow exc for small trailer w kayak & scooter. When parked I prefer Uber, Lyft and a rental in that order.

  8. Bill

    We had a class B for 20 years. We started using a small station wagon for the cargo capacity to do craft shows and festivals. At first my wife would drive the car separately, but she doesn’t drive in the snow and we got caught in a storm once when we needed to get home, so we rented a tow dolly. After that, we rigged the car for towing, but still often traveled without a toad. We planned out day to do sightseeing early, and stop at the grocery store on the way to the campground. If we were going to be staying more than one night in a place without public transportation, or where we couldn’t walk or bike to all required facilities, we would tow the car.

  9. Paulette

    We traveled all over the U.S. In our 29 ‘ class c for 4 1/2 months without a two. When we wanted to explore we rented a car. It was easy. There were many places we could explore with the camper and never had a problem parking.

  10. Gene Bjerke

    We drive a Sprinter (Class B) and have no use for a toad. We can back the MH and park it almost anywhere. As far as breaking camp to use it for sight-seeing, we have a minimal hook-up — typically electric only. Maximum five minutes to get ready to leave (I do the outside, she does the inside). When we get back (if we are staying over) still only five minutes. To me a toad just seems like an extra complication.

  11. Alex

    We towed a Smart Car with our Sprinter Class C. Only weighed 1800 lbs, easily forgot it was following us. One of the few towables with an automatic transmission (older ones are, newer ones are not). You can find a nice, low mileage, 2009 for $5000 or so. Hooking up and disconnecting maybe 5 minutes if that. Couldn’t have parked it at many restaurants or “olde towne” areas worth exploring on foot. Got close to 40 mpg and great conversation starter at RV parks. I think it will accommodate both points of view. Oh yes, forgot … the MPG penalty for towing a Smart was 1 or 2 mpg.

  12. Drew

    I think it depends on what style of rv’ing you plan on doing. Some people (like us) prefer no toad and just rent a car if we need one. You could rent probably hundreds of times before you’d approach what a car and the tow equipment would cost. I prefer not to wear out our own car and drive someone else’s. As they say “Your mileage may vary.”

  13. Pat

    I travel alone & wonder how hard it would be for me (74 years old female) to hook & unhook a toad. I’ve seen people hooking & unhooking & it is always 2 people. One person drives the toad while the other guides them to the tow bar. Any suggestions?

    1. Thomas Bender

      I think pulling a toad hitching unhitching Etc up the toad would be Beyond the age-related problems you would have doing it. I have been rving since 70s when I bought my first travel trailer. I now have a Class A towing a Lincoln MKX four wheels on the ground. My disabled wife can not help at all. Turning 69 this year I don’t know how much longer I can do it all myself and because of health problems we haven’t used the RV since 2013.

      I suggest you get a class B motorhome which I would think for a single person would be ideal and you would not need a toad

      1. Birdie

        I am tapping on 75. I have been driving solo since 2008. I started with a TT, moved up to a 30’ Class C and towed a Ford Edge. Moved up to a Class A and towing a Chevy HHR. Road master All Terrain tow bar, Stay-N-Play braking system. Easy Peasy and takes about 10 minutes. Oh, yeah and I am a female with pretty good health. Depends on your state of mind what you can do or want to do.

    2. Jim

      Modern tow hitches allow you to get “close” without needing to be “perfect”. Release levers allow you to adjust the length & angle of the hitch so you can usually park the toad, get out and hook it up, with only one try. Then you slowly pull the RV forward until you hear the “click” of the hitch bars self locking in place and then you’re OFF and running. Easy Peasy

  14. Anthony Vinson

    My F250 is a jack of all trades, tow vehicle, sight seeing vehicle, luxury vehicle, and pack mule. Gets great unloaded mileage for a big truck and will tow my TT anywhere I point it. However, if I was a motorhome driver, I’d have a skate, no doubt.

  15. Robbie

    Have seen plenty of RVers who are stranded without a toad.

  16. DMason

    It’s very important to make sure whatever you tow is not going to be too much for your main rig. You should look at what your RV is rated for cargo + tow capacity and make sure you don’t overdo it. You also need to be sure your toad is OK to tow 4-wheels-down or you need to consider a tow dolly or trailer (more weight to take into account). You don’t want to add a toad only to find out you’re overtaxing your RV. Also, if you pull a toad you may need to use an auxiliary brake system (we use the Stay-n-Play that is all under the hood except for the indicator light and the on-off switch).

    Do your research so you won’t be disappointed.

  17. Mary Jo

    We are brand new to the RV world, having purchased a 2014 Thor A.C.E. 27.1. Two trips under our belts and so far, so good. Now we are wondering what kind of small vehicle would work best to tow? Any suggestions? Thank you!

    1. Thomas Bender

      Because of my wife disability she can’t stand an uncomfortable car therefore I tow a Lincoln MKX which can be towed 4 Wheels on the ground. Also I will not buy anything but a Ford product GM or Chrysler

  18. J

    Another option: a truck or SUV and trailer, so they can drop the trailer and have a vehicle to travel with.

  19. Brenda

    I would never travel for any length of time without a tow vehicle. Even if it’s a rather short 25 ft Navion type RV. The convenience alone will be worth having the extra vehicle. Breaking camp just to go to the grocery store or anything will become a pain.
    Unhooking electric, water and maybe sewer and even sometimes leveling just for bread and milk….no way. Enjoy your site and take off in a small economical toad.

  20. Rufus

    Note that they are buying a Spinter. Towing a toad behind a Sprinter is a crazy idea. The reason you buy a Spinter is because it’s small in the first place! You can drive it into town and camp out of it.

  21. Darrel

    I would not RV at all without a toad behind our motorhome.

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